Labour must back UCU strike!

Submitted by Zac Muddle on 27 November, 2019 - 6:29 Author: Ollie Moore

Above: UCU picket lines in Nottingham. At centre-right, holding the “four fights” placard, is, with supporters, including Nadia Whittome, Labour’s Nottingham East Parliamentary candidate. All Labour candidates near any of the 60 striking universities should join the pickets.

Higher Education workers in the University and College Union (UCU) are striking from 25 November to 4 December, in a national dispute over workload, pay, and pensions. A striker in Cambridge spoke to Solidarity:

“This was my first day on a picket as a striking worker. I’ve previously only picketed in solidarity. Although I ignored most of the draconian anti-strike laws, the ridiculousness of wearing an arm band, and having specified numbers at all times really sank in. Despite these being less significant than many other attacks on worker action, it really helped underline the role played by governments over the last few decades in minimising industrial struggle. Let’s scrap every law trying to weaken strike action.

“The numbers on my picket were greater than the same location last February and solid across the rest of Cambridge. Although a couple of locations fewer were running, we still had eight different departmental picket lines, and some hosting more than 30 people. Alongside student support and roving pickets, easily upwards of 200 people were involved around the city.

“The pickets were followed by a town centre rally – this became a tradition at the last strike and is being adopted again. I found these to be useful for morale and to keep updated on national strike news. Given this was only day one, less was said about the latter, but the daily reports fed back on the negotiating committee progress – a process which surely should be held in the open, and broadcast to UCU members.

“Student activists then organised a march through the town, along with a demo outside Old Schools, symbolically the focus of direct action and occupations during heightened political disputes at the university.

“Our branch held a meeting afterwards to discuss further demands and our strategy for the rest of the strike, including the demand to finally get our branch recognised by the university. With over 1,600 members, and possibly greater than 150 active, this surely will come soon if we decide to fight.

“Having themed strike days has provided clear agitational focuses for the next seven days – covering issues such as casualisation, the gender pay gap, and supporting migrant workers. Friday will start with morning pickets, and then merge in town with the youth climate strikers. I’ve made leaflets advertising our picket as a mobilising point to march into town for those in West Cambridge.

“The September climate strike drew over 3,000 into the city without coinciding with any supportive industrial disputes. Even higher numbers could and should be present this time.”

Another UCU activist told us: “Most reports I’ve seen so far are saying the strikes are even bigger than in 2018, and some student unions that didn’t support the strikes last time have changed their minds. There’s been a mix of responses from university bosses, ranging from the Vice Chancellor joining the picket line in Bristol, to summarily evicting strikers from the university chaplaincy on the grounds that campus buildings are private property.”

Many campuses saw large rallies and student presences on picket lines. Some university bosses went to considerable lengths to intimidate students out of supporting the strike. A letter from the university administration to students at the University of Liverpool threatened: “Any international students who choose not to cross picket lines... risk jeopardising their visa.”

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